Many years ago I used Remote Installation Services (RIS) on a Windows 2000 Server to install Windows 2000 Pro and Windows XP to clients on my network. Sometime in the Windows Server 2003 timeframe RIS evolved into the much improved Windows Deployment Services (WDS). I left that job and as time went on never really needed to use it since, until the other week. I was given a netbook with broken USB ports and a dodgy copy of Windows XP on it. Installing a fresh copy of XP over the network seemed to be the easiest way to do this. I was wondering how things had changed now Windows 7 & Server 2008 R2 have been released. I could remember it involving lots of huge downloads like the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) and the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit. I also am only going to be using it on rare occasions so I don’t need any of the Microsoft System Centre bumph.These always seemed like overkill for the simple task in hand. Doing a few Bings and Googles didn’t really seem to bring any up to date information so I ended up piecing together the info from lots of different blogs to get to the end result. I have included the steps I took (below) in case it is of any help to anyone else out there. I’ve kept them quite vague on purpose as putting to much detail tends to overcomplicate the matter, therefore, you do need some technical knowledge to get through this successfully.
Step 1 – Install WDS
Install the Windows Deployment Services server role (I used a Windows Server 2003 R2 x64 box but more recent Server OSes are much the same). You can accept all the defaults but you may want to install it to a disk with enough space to store the images.
Open the WDS management console
We need to add a “Boot image” to give WDS something to load when the client asks. I used the boot.wim file from a Windows 7 DVD (in the SOURCES folder). Give it a name like “Install Windows”. This will take a few minutes to copy to the WDS server.
After it has been added, right-click the “Install Windows” boot image and choose “Create Capture Boot Image”. A new wizard starts. Give the capture image a useful name like “Capture PC Image” and save it to anywhere you like. After the capture image is created you need to add it as a boot image exactly the same way you did with the Windows 7 DVD. Its a bit bizarre it doesn’t do this automatically but hey-ho.
We now have everything we need on the server side.
Because we want to deploy Windows XP we have to go through the faff of creating a reference PC. With Vista and later you can just copy an install.wim file from the DVD exactly like you did when adding the boot image.
Choose a spare PC and install Windows XP SP3 on it
Download and apply all Windows Updates including things like Internet Explorer 8 and Windows Media Player 11.
Don’t worry about installing drivers as we are trying to create a small generic image that can go onto most PCs without blue-screening. Therefore, the less installed on, it the better. Also, don’t bother installing any applications to it unless you have licenses that can be easily reapplied. Chances are, especially with free software like Firefox, that by time you want to use the image again there will be newer versions online.
Once all patches are applied I tend to defrag the hard disk. I don’t know whether this makes a massive difference but it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Step 3 – Preparing the Reference PC for Capture
We need to strip the reference PC of any unique names, Security Identifiers (SIDs) etc. before we can capture it. Thankfully, we can use a tool called SysPrep (from the XP CD) to do this. We can also provide a script to automate most of the initial setup routine when it eventually gets deployed. From the XP CD extract the contents of Drive:\SUPPORTTOOLS\deploy.cab to a folder “C:\sysprep” on the reference PC.
- Run C:\sysprep\setupmgr.exe – This will launch a wizard to create an answer file to automate installation.
- Type of Setup: Sysprep setup
- Product: Windows XP Professional
- License Agreement: No, do not fully automate the installation*
- Carry on through the wizard filling out the relevant info like Company Name, Languages, Time Zone etc. Remember the less you put in, the more generic the image will be. When you get to the end of the wizard there is no “Finish” button, just use “Cancel” instead and save it to the sysprep folder. Warning: Do not encrypt the admin password as it will cause the script to crash during deployment.
*Microsoft where very helpful when they released Service Pack 3 for XP. This is because you no longer need to put a license key in during set up. This is very useful for people that don’t have special volume licensed media, just the OEM CD that comes with the box. However, Setupmgr doesn’t let you fully automate the install if you are leaving the product key blank.
- Run C:\sysprep\sysprep.exe
- Click “Yes” to the agreement warning.
- Tick the box “Use Mini-Setup”.
- Shutdown Mode: Shutdown
- Click the “Reseal” button.
Sysprep will do it’s thing then shut down. We are now ready to capture the image
Step 4 – Capture the XP image
Boot from the network (you may need to configure this in the BIOS) and hit F12 to launch WDS. Be quick otherwise the PC will load Windows and start going through the mini setup. No biggie but you will need to sysprep again.
Choose “Capture PC Image” from the WDS options.
This will load the Capture wizard that guides you through the process. It’s very simple but there are a couple of things to note. It will only let you capture a partition that has been syspreped, otherwise it will just show a blank. Also, you can choose to save the image to a partition and upload it to the WDS server at the same time. This makes things a lot easier, just make sure that you fill out all the boxes in order for it to work.
This process will take a while depending on how big you image is. Mine took 7 minutes to capture a 1.3GB image
Step 5 – Deploy the Image
We’re almost there! This process is similar to the capture step above. Boot from the network but this time choose the “Install Windows” option from the WDS screen. This will load a GUI similar to the Windows 7 setup. It will list any images that are compatible with the PCs HAL type**. Hopefully, it will recognise the XP capture we created in Step 3 and we can deploy it. This took about 9 minutes on the laptop I was deploying it to. It will now go through the usual XP setup process and you will be left with a happy operating system
**Newer WIMs (like Vista or Win7) don’t care what HAL you have but XP is more picky. You can see the HAL type of your image by looking at the properties of it in the WDS console. Mine says acpiapic_mp, whereas another I created from a virtual machine is acpipic_up. The _up HAL only shows up on virtual machines but the _mp HAL from my physical Reference PC seems to work on most modern motherboards.
WDS can be used for a lot more than deploying XP images. As I mentioned earlier, the process of deploying Vista or Windows 7 is much more straightforward. The same goes for Server OSes too. I added Server 2008 WIMs from the media kit as well as the new version of Hyper-V 2008 R2. No more burning ISOs for me!
I also added other boot images, so I can troubleshoot computers without loading the installed operating system. For example, I added the Windows Pre-installation Environment (WinPE) from a 2008 R2 OEM Preinstallation Kit. I could then add tools and drivers to this boot image to use on any PC regardless of its primary OS. I also intalled the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) by following the easy guide here.
WDS forms the basis of many of the Windows Deployment Tools, so by getting a simple start with this you should be in good stead to dive deeper when necessary.
Do you use your WDS server for anything else interesting? Are you having problems getting yours up and running? Please add your comments below.
Sources and More Info
I used the following sites to help me gather this information